This comparison is not to show that one or the other is right. It's not to show that one is better than the other. I do not intend to be little either. I only offer this comparison to show that two spiritual traditions that seem so different, are so much alike.
I like to compare the Native American traditional practices
with Catholic practices to show that though they seem so different,
they are actually very similar in many ways. It may seem that what I
say here contradicts what I say about the separation of spirituality
and religion. In a sense I am comparing two different things, but what
I am trying to show is that the spiritual rituals of two totally different
cultures is very much similar.
First you need to understand that in a sense, there is no church or religion in traditional Native ways as a western person would consider them. Spirituality is a part of the way of life of traditional Native Americans. As part of their way of life, it is not separated into a church or religious doctrine.
To be able to compare the rituals and symbolism though, I will identify the Native church for the sense of comparison as the sweat lodge.
First, lets consider the two cultures.
Native American culture is earth based and is very focused on maintaining tradition. While the Western culture is material based and focused on advancement.
Native Americans are known to pray to a number of animal spirits, elders who have passed away, and unspecified "spirits." Their lodge is a small dome made of saplings and animal skins. Some of the newer lodges use canvas instead of animal skins. The dome is too low to stand in and the people crawl in and sit in circles facing the center. The lodge has a dirt floor usually covered with skins or canvas and in the center of the floor is a small pit where hot rocks are placed. The alter is outside the lodge and always directly west from the lodge door. It is a mound of dirt, often bordered with rocks or small logs. On the alter are generally an animal skull, some food offerings, and a flag staff. For many westerners, this seems peaganistic and far from a Catholic church. Since they pray to animals and other spirits, some people suspect there is more than one God. Try to keep in mind, the culture is earth based, therefore, their "church" and "faith" is of the earth.
Now for those who are not familiar with the Catholic faith: The Church is usually a rather large and airy building. Often made of fine imported stone and hardwoods with very high ceilings. Windows are almost always expensive stained glass murals. The alter is towards the back of the building and all people sit in rows facing the alter. Generally, the alter is made of fine marble or expensive hardwoods and is adorned with expensive cloths, silver and crystal and gold. They sing hymns that are often accompanied by organ music and follow prayer rituals. They receive communion, a sharing of a special food and wine that is blessed and declared the body and blood of Christ. During the service, the priest will often direct prayer for a certain group of people or a certain cause.
Now let me begin a ritual by ritual comparison of the two to show that as much as they appear different, they are so much alike.
Native Americans gather in the sweat lodge to focus their
prayer in unity and to be cleansed of bad thoughts and deeds. They ask
for spiritual guidance and good health and good health for their neighbor
and peace among people. They some times pray as a group for specific
people who are suffering or who are struggling with an aspect of life.
Catholics gather in the church to focus their prayer in unity and to be cleansed of their bad thoughts and sins. They ask for spiritual guidance and good health and good health for their neighbor and peace among people. They some times pray as a group for specific people who are suffering or who are struggling with an aspect of life.
Native Americans are earth based people and their "church" and alter are of the earth.
Catholics are a material based culture and their church and alter are of the finest materials they can gather.
In the Catholic church, they play an organ and sing hymns. There is quiet time when they kneel and pray. To focus their prayer, they close their eyes and bow their head and try to visualize the trinity or saint they pray to or person they pray for.
Native Americans play a drum to symbolize the heart beat of Mother Earth and sing songs of prayer or honor. There is also quite time when they pray. To focus their prayer, it is completely dark in the lodge. They look up and try to see the spirit they are praying to or close their eyes and try to visualize.
The Catholics share in the holy communion by receiving the food of God.
Native Americans stand in a circle and pass bowls of nuts and berries, the food from Creator.
Catholics pray to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. More than one God? No, the Father is the only God. The Son is a living person who has died and gone to heaven. Much like the Native elders who have died and gone to the Star Nation. And for Native Americans, there is only one God also, the Creator.
Catholics pray to various patron saints for various reasons. They pray to a specific saint for a specific reason. Saints are people who have lived in the past and who lived a special, spiritual life. Praying to a saint gives a Catholic the power to over come a problem or the guidance to find an answer.
In the same way, Native Americans pray to elders, people who lived before them and lived special spiritual lives. They pray to specific animal spirits for specific reasons... guidance, strength, wisdom. As an earth based culture, they honor the animals they share the earth with because they have learned to survive and live in harmony from the animals.
Elan Michaels "Windwalker"
Windwalker's Web Page